Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON – Of the various species pursued by ice anglers, crappies may be tops. They’re a blast to catch and provide great eating. And while there are a bunch of ways to catch crappies – everything from tungsten jigs to spoons to set-lines with live bait – more and more anglers are discovering that the crankbait game isn’t limited to open water when it comes to catching more and bigger slabs. Progressive ice anglers are fishing rattlebaits alone and in tandem with other systems, and they’re turning out big fish all across the ice belt. Although rattlebaits will work the entire season, right now – early-to-mid-ice – is the perfect time to capitalize on these presentations.
Location and Timing
For North Dakota-based LIVETARGET ice pros Scott Brewer and Kyle Agre of Brewer-Agre Outdoors, the first part of the crappie equation is locating fish. And when it comes to crappies, early- and mid-ice season fish will remain close to the same depths and locations they were found during late fall.
“For me, it’s finding that deep basin, preferably adjacent to a weedy flat or a weedy bay,” says Agre. “That’s where they’re going to be after they move out of the weeds.”
Brewer agrees that weeds are key. “And the edges of green weeds on the drop-offs,” he adds. “Ideally, you’ll find a drop-off with green weeds close to that deep-water basin. The crappies will hang out there for quite a while. Crappies are also headed toward holes. If you can find a hole on a flat somewhere – a 10- or 15- foot flat that’s got a 20- or 25-foot hole – those crappies are going to be there already during early ice and remain there a good portion of the winter.”
Agre says the adjacent basins really come into play once the weeds die. “Finding the right locations really comes down to knowing that these fish were relating to the weeds until the food moved on,” he says. “The weeds will die off to a point where they’re not sustaining the plankton, the minnows, baitfish, and everything else. At that point the crappies are going to slide out into the deeper water and they’re going to feed on the whole food chain that’s taking place out there with plankton, insect larvae, baitfish and so on.”
Once prime areas are located, it comes down to drilling a lot of holes and jumping from spot to spot to find active crappies. Electronics increase efficiency. Rather than hunkering down in one spot and waiting for prime times, this kind of fishing can produce fish when the majority of anglers would either stay on shore or simply wait out the hours until set-line bobber and minnow combinations start producing.
Also, there are a lot of anglers who can only fish when they have time, which might be during the day or outside of those prime-time hours. Run and gun crappie fishing is the perfect solution.
The One-Two Punch
Scott Brewer says that’s when loud baits like the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Perch rattlebaits really come in handy, because they allow you to search for fish fast. As an added benefit, these baits are magnets for the largest, most aggressive crappies in the school, so they can often act as a filter for better-quality fish.
“The smallest of the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Yellow Perch rattlebaits work great for searching out and catching large crappies,” says Brewer. “Even during the middle of the day, hole-hopping with a rattlebait can pay out dividends that you just don’t get when hunkered down with a set-line or smaller tungsten set up.”
For Brewer and Agre, they almost always utilize a one-two punch of a LIVETARGET Golden Shiner Rattlebait or Yellow Perch Rattlebait on one rod, and the smallest LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner spoon (1/4-oz.) with a minnow head on a second throwback rod.
“I think that whether the angler is going to fish aggressively or sit tight and be a little more subtle, having that lipless crank on can play to both techniques. When running and gunning you’re looking for those aggressive fish, just like we do when we’re trolling crankbaits for crappies in the open-water season,” says Agre. “And once you find them, the bite might only last so long and you have to continue the search. But when it’s time to slow down and offer a more subtle presentation, I will use still use a rattlebait in tandem with the ¼-oz. LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner. I’m going to use the lipless crank as an attractor, much like we do with the walleyes on Lake Winnipeg. And if the crappies don’t commit to the rattlebait, I’ll switch rods and drop that Erratic Shiner with a minnow head on it and that’s usually all it takes.”
In terms of rod, reel, and line set-up, Agre recommends a light to medium-light power rod with a fast tip in the 28- to 32-inch range for both the smaller rattlebaits and spoons. Both he and Brewer prefer monofilament in the four-to-six-pound class.
As far as color is concerned, both pros like the standard silver/blue and glow patterns for the Golden Shiner rattlebaits and the Erratic Shiner, and switch to the perch patterns on lakes where perch are an important forage source.
Don’t limit yourself to only fishing prime times or sitting and waiting for crappies to come to you this season. With lures like LIVETARGET’s Golden Shiner and Yellow Perch rattlebaits, run and gun tactics can produce fast – and big – crappie bites when other anglers are sitting around complaining about slow fishing. And when the fish become neutral to negative, it’s time to break out the LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner with a minnow head and slow down your movements.
It’s a one-two punch that’s producing big crappies across the ice belt.
Since its launch in 2008, LIVETARGET has grown into a full family of life-like fishing lures that Match-the-Hatch® to specific game fish forage, with an expansive library of lure styles and colors for both fresh and saltwater fishing. The lures feature industry-leading designs in realism and workmanship that closely mimic nature’s different prey species. Headquartered in Ontario, Canada, LIVETARGET won ICAST Best of Show awards in the hard and soft lure categories in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.